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I'm wondering if Q&A is the right approach for creative writers to exchange ideas.

I'm seeing questions on Writers.SE that are either incomplete or stated in a such a way that it is open to interpretation. If this leads to changing the question (or provide more context), it will obviously make any answers already provided invalid (or less valid).

One would expect a more fuzzy approach, in which the discussion about the subject is more important than the question and even the answers. However, the way Stack Exchange is set up right now, the discussion is undervalued, seen as an aside, while I seem to get more out of the discussion than the answers per se.

Perhaps this is because I have been taught that, unlike in computer science, in the liberal arts there is no right and wrong answer to a style or taste question, provided you can explain why you prefer one option over another. It is the explanation that matters, not the chosen option.

However, Stack Exchange seems to require answers to questions. I think that is a mismatch for creative writing. I think it shouldn't be about questions and answers, but about discussing a subject.

What say you?

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There is room in a StackExchange site for questions which have subjective answers. These kinds of questions are defined by the criteria used in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and bound questions on Programmers.SE, here, Seasoned Advice, Parenting.SE and many other sites. The criteria are:

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers.
  3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun.

You can see above that it is exactly the explanation that makes the answers to a good subjective question really valuable.

You can see a list of questions which include many that I believe demonstrate these criteria here. They include great questions like Pros and Cons of writing a plot based on the past and present tense. These questions can be used as models for asking a good question here at Writers if you are looking for one.

I'd also challenge your assumption that in the liberal arts there are no right and wrong answers. There are facts and truths about literature and writing. For example fiction is different from non-fiction and to try and call fiction non-fiction is a lie. While some people like to play with blurring the line between the two, there are pretty clear-cut definitions of what can and can't be called non-fiction and the reading public gets pretty mad when someone plays with those lines. While it's not as straightforward as fixing a Java syntax error, writing style is at least as straightforward as coding style. In fact I'd argue it is easier to find good reasons to write a certain way than it is to choose what line to place your curly braces or parenthesis on.

For related questions to your questions with lots more discussion of what works here, check out:

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There's been a lot of discussion about this subject, and I think many of the regulars here share your concern.

In my view, the beta stage of this site is meant precisely for this: to understand whether the StackExchange format is a good match for the Writing domain. Maybe writing questions can be rephrased to be appropriate for Q&A; maybe "regular" writing question aren't a good match for SE, but we'll find a whole bunch of new questions that nobody's been answering before because they'd always get bogged down in discussion.

Or, maybe you're absolutely right and Writers.SE won't be of much use to people, and forums and writers' groups do the job better.

At the moment, I'm kind of with you on this. But we've got the regulars who enjoy the site and keep the answers coming, and we've had some great questions and answers, and we've never got up to a critical mass of questions we can say have "worked" or "failed." So we're trooping on, for the moment :)

  • I find myself not wanting to answer questions, because there is a requirement for factual information, not opinions. I'm not a creative writing teacher, nor an experienced creative writer. It seems Stack Exchange is meant for individuals who developed their expertise elsewhere. People who seek it or seek to grow it are discouraged to engage in the discussion. I feel very unwelcome here, not having enough badges, nor any means of gathering them. Even if I wanted them, because I don't fancy video games, which seem to be where the badges came from. – René Van Belzen Jan 6 '12 at 11:04

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